Policy framework and legal forms of social enterprise in Central and Eastern Europe

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Abstract

In Central and Eastern European countries, the transition to a market economy stimulated civil society initiatives that in the past had been either discouraged or had become part of the Communist state system, and opened new pathways to entrepreneurial initiatives. The 1990s was an open window to the creation of a significant number of non-profit organizations, including the pioneering establishment of the first social enterprises. When these countries became members of the European Union, the process of legal institutionalization of social enterprises started to be discussed and has taken place at various stages. The purpose of this paper is to provide a comprehensive overview of the policy frameworks and the legal forms and of social enterprises in eight countries: Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. The research seeks to determine the extent to which the development of national policy frameworks influences the development of legal forms under which social enterprises operate. For the purpose of this analysis, data were collected from relevant to this subject country reports, studies, laws released between 2009 and 2016. The research shows that European social enterprises are often ‘hidden’ among existing legal forms either as associations and foundations with commercial activities, cooperatives serving general or collective interests and mainstream enterprises pursuing an explicit and primary social aim. Further research needs to be done to determine the potential for growth of entities operating as associations and foundations with commercial activities. Furthermore, the research concluded that the countries with specific laws on social entrepreneurship generate 61 % of the social economy activity in Central and Eastern European countries. Further research needs to be done to determine if introducing a social enterprise specific legal form, will stimulate the development of the business models under which social enterprises operate and implicitly growth.

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